Steamboat Springs One after another, the pipes are bursting in Oak Creek. On Monday, 170,000 gallons of water spewed out of the ground. The Friday before that, it took crews working until 4 a.m., and then another 10 hours starting again at 7 a.m. Saturday, to fix a leaky section of pipe.
Public Works Director Bob Redding said it’s not likely to stop any time soon. The pipes in town, for the most part, are old. They were installed in the 1970s, and thanks to minerals in the soil, they are developing weak points that burst through in nearly perfectly round sections, the size of a golf ball to the size of a tennis ball.
Up behind the public works barn on Lillian Lane, at the top of the hill, Redding has a pile of pipes he has pulled out recently. On one side, the pipe looks like new — thick and undamaged. Tracing the cross-section to the opposite side on a pipe, Redding shows how it thinned out to a point where it burst, sending crews scrambling.
Redding said the first goal for his crew and him is to get the water flowing to customers as quickly as possible. Oak Creek’s water pipe system is simple, with no diversion valves that could send the water around the broken section. When a pipe breaks, the water is out for the rest of the neighborhood.
The first option is to dig down to the hole, put a spot repair on the pipe, slowly turn the water back on and hope for the best. But with 50 pounds of pressure when the water is up to full speed, it’s often not long before the pipe bursts again, a couple of feet away. On Monday, workers had to replace an entire 20-foot section of pipe after three consecutive blowouts.
“Plastic is the way to go; it’s probably a lifetime thing,” Redding said. “But to replace it all, it would be millions of dollars.”
Without those millions, the public works crews, on call 24 hours a day, likely will be busy.
“We don’t think we’re done yet,” he said.
With frost reaching unusually deep into the ground this past winter, the pipes now are starting to unthaw and the ground is moving more, creating more pressure points and causing more breaks.
Redding said the town couldn’t afford large-scale replacements or preventative measures, so he’s keeping extra pipe stocked at the public works barn, and the crews will have to work as fast as they can to stay on top of the problem. Redding said anyone who sees a leak should call Town Hall at 736-2422, and clerks there can notify the crews.
Redding said it’s often hard to tell each town resident about water outages as they happen because crews are working to fix the problem instead of going door-to-door. Several residents suggested the town use an automated phone alert system through Routt County Communications, similar to Reverse 911. When Redding called the county to ask about that option, he was told it would cost thousands of dollars.
Routt County Communication dispatchers said Friday they didn’t know how much it costs, and Communications Director Tim McMenamin did not return phone messages Friday.
The town also has struggled with sewer problems after a contractor hired to replace sewer lines missed at least 10 houses when reconnecting the pipes.
Redding said it’s understandable that some pipes could have been missed, as mud was smeared over the openings, but it’s proving costly to the town.
The problem appears as a backup in the sewer lines, but after it’s checked with a camera, if the home isn’t connected to the main sewer line, it costs the town $500 to $1,500 to repair the problem.
Redding said the town is looking into the possibility of recovering some of the money spent on those repairs from the contractor that did the work.